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Bad Days at Nordstroms


We can reckon what the White House tacticians were telling the boss earlier in the month as they gazed down the tunnel towards 2003, hoping for brighter economic prospects. No light at the end. Such grim economic tidings required a sacrifice to please the gods, so they led Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to the vice president’s office, where Cheney axed Bono’s weeping friend on the spot.

The gods weren’t propitiated. On the front lines of capitalism here in Fortress America the news is bad. For these past three years a young Friend of CounterPunch has been a champion salesperson in the Nordstrom retail chain in the Pacific North West, selling fashionable garments to the younger crowd. This year she elected to do battle for the economy in a prime Nordstrom outlet in downtown Portland, Oregon. Her dispatches from the trenches were bleak from the start, and have been getting bleaker as the holiday season progresses. The parking lots are half empty, the consumers fretful and flighty. For the first time in her Nordstrom career she failed to meet her quotas. It was a bust.

At the other end of the country I spoke to my old friend Wilbur, car junker and owner of a small trailer park in South Carolina. “Alex,” he hollered down the phone, “this morning I went down to McDonald’s for breakfast and the place was empty. So was Hardees next door. People are scared.”

If Nordstroms and McDonalds are both doing badly, you know you’ve got problems. The signs are everywhere. Here in California, a state with an economy that ranks in the world’s top ten, the governor is facing a huge deficit in the state budget and the two major public university systems have just announced fierce fee hikes for students. 2002 saw small investors savagely reminded that Wall Street is a cruel place where minnows die. 2003 is shaping up as a year when the real meaning of recession may bite home.

Mind you, only a fool says he knows for sure which way the economy is going to jump, but we’ve had eight straight quarters of decline and the markets don’t look so good. It could be we’re headed into a double dip recession.

The Democrats have no plan and much of the time manage to stand to the right of the Republicans on matters such as balancing the budget. Amid almost weekly examples of corporate looting and executive criminality unrivaled in the fragrant history of American capitalism, the Democrats have been unable to seize the initiative, which is scarcely surprising since the party has been soundly bribed into complaisance by these same corporate criminals.

No Turkey Shoot

A flock of wild turkeys strutted into my front yard here in Humboldt county, displaying the same faulty sense of timing that brought their forebears to this same yard three years ago on the eve of Thanksgiving. They like to jump up and down under my holly tree trying to get what berries have been spared by the robins. Talk about a turkey shoot! This could have been Ground Zero for Meleagris gallopavo but as I was leveling my 12-gauge I remembered I was scheduled to pick up a 24-lb turkey raised by a 4-H kid in Hydesville which I bought at the Humboldt county fair, plus my yearly batch of two dozen pheasants from a friend in Rohnerville. How much poultry can a man, even a CounterPuncher, have in the freezer?

Also the wild turkeys looked a bit bedraggled, as well they might, considering they’d been weathering some of the worst storms ever seen on our storm-lashed chunk of coastline below Cape Mendocino. We’ve been without power for a week now, the exclusive print edition of CounterPunch (yes, subscribe NOW, and it’s NOT TOO LATE to buy your friends their subs for Christmas) coaxed into life between Petrolia and Jeffrey St Clair’s bunker in Oregon City with the help of my Onan generator (yes, that’s its name, one to conjure within the generator business) then sent on its way via email to our printer in Skokie, Illinois.

Not like the old days, I told our youthful business manager Becky Grant and our friend Scott Handleman and then held forth to them on the production of newsletters and kindred radical periodicals back in the Sixties.

As the storm winds rattled the window panes and the lamps guttered low, warming the room to the tints of a LaTour painting, and as Becky’s youngest, Oliver, gamboled with Jasper the Wonderdog I sang of the ancient days of 7 Days, a weekly I was involved with at the end of the Sixties in London. There were about 20 people in the collective, with all decisions, down to the refinenements of punctuation and the proper use of the semi-colon, settled by debate and democratic vote, 50 per cent men, 50 per cent women. Democracy at that level is very tiring.

Late one night as I labored over the photographs with our design team I heard a crackling on the aged stairs of the old building on Shavers Place, a hundred yards from Piccadilly Circus, where we were perched on the top floor. I pulled open the door, to be confronted by a sheet of flame. It later turned out that some group of Ulster-based Orangemen had taken exception to our measured posture on the Irish question and had decided to torch the building.

We decided to abandon ship. Carrying boxes of valuable prints from Magnum we walked the narrow catwalk that led to the next building, and kicked in the window. There was a screech of alarm as a couple of Palestinians who were working late on their magazine saw the window burst in and thought the Israeli commandos were about to follow. By dawn we had the pages made up and then it was a rush to the train station, then an hour down to the printers. So different now; so much easier, so much cheaper. Who says there isn’t progress in human affairs, though I do miss the inky excitement of those old hot type days.

Out of my yard strutted Meleagris gallopavo, spared for the nonce. I’ll be brining the 24-pounder for 24 hours and then maybe spit roasting the portly bird.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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